Posts filed under Building Your Faith

Phases vs Lifestyles: What a Determined Plant Has Taught Me

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My in-laws live on a 200-acre farm in southern Kentucky. My favorite time of year to visit them is in the fall because the southern heat and humidity have eased and the rolling hills are yellowed with drying hay and bean crops.

When I can get myself out of bed at a decent time, I like to take morning walks along the paved driveway between the farmhouse and the main road.

It’s a pretty and serene walk as the road rises and falls with the land. As I was walking one morning last fall, I looked down at the side of the driveway and was so intrigued by what I saw that I stopped, took off my head phones, and knelt down for a closer look. Growing up through the asphalt was a plant. Through the asphalt! It was yellowed like the plants in the field next to it, but it was still growing. I took some pictures with my phone and continued my walk, marveling at the determination of the plant.

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I can be a pro when it comes to determination, too. I’ve gone through phases where I’m very determined to accomplish something. For example, I pursued my Masters for three years and even switched degrees part-way through when I realized that I didn’t really want an MBA; I wanted a Masters in writing. And when my husband and I bought our townhome in 2008, I spent hours poring over paint chips, curtain fabrics, and flooring samples. We redid the half bath and installed new light fixtures. We worked every night for weeks until we finished all the tasks on my list.

On the other hand, there have been times I’ve set out to accomplish something and have started out strong and disciplined only to falter, then give up altogether. Case in point: I’ve struggled with my weight since college. I’ve lost and gained as much as 60 pounds twice just in the past seven years. I start strong and have at times kept up with a pattern of healthy eating and exercising for a year or more. But, inevitably, I allow life to derail me and now I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and feel miserable.

I also struggle to be consistent in my time with the Lord. A lot. I start strong, spending time in the Word, praying, and being conscious of my thoughts and temper. Then I trick myself into thinking that other tasks like a load of laundry are more important than praying. One misstep leads to another, I feel defeated, and then I give up altogether.

It’s taken me a long time (an embarrassingly long time) to figure out why I’m successful in some things but not others. It’s because some are actual phases and some are meant to be life-long disciplines. Phases aren’t permanent routines – they’re temporary. Life-long disciplines last for…well, a lifetime. Most people can stick with something when they know there’s an end point – even something as fun as decorating my new house was sure to feel cumbersome if it lasted for more than a year.

Many of us like to have a starting point and an ending point. We want to know how long we need to push and work because it gives us hope and encouragement. We know there’s an end so we can hammer through with determination and persistence until that end comes.

But some things in life don’t have a stopping point that we can look forward to – we won’t have that specific moment when we know we’ve finished the task and can relax. My physical well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. My spiritual well-being won’t be perfected until I take my last breath. I need to continually work in both areas of my life; I’ll never get to a point where I can or should stop working on them.

Both my physical and spiritual well-being are vital. And yet, these are the two parts of my life where I’m the most lazy. That’s the plain and simple truth: I’m lazy.

I’m empathizing more and more with Paul as I age. In Romans 7, he expressed sorrow and frustration over being divided within himself. His will was torn. Flesh versus spirit. Romans 7:19 says, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (NASB). While I may not be purposefully practicing evil, I’m still practicing it because I’m not doing what I know I should and can do. When I think about it that way, it’s very convicting.

For me, it’s come down to this: I can’t think of my desire for a healthier body as a phase. And I can’t think of my desire for a healthier spiritual life as a phase. They’re disciplines. They’re lifestyles.

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So, now what? Now that I’m confessing this openly, I need to have a game plan. The first thing I need to do is to find what works – what type of eating and exercising regimen will I realistically stick to? And what kind of personal time with the Lord is most realistic based on how my days flow and where I’m at in terms of kids at home, work, etc.?

A second thing I need to do is print the picture of that plant I found in Kentucky. The plant has taught me and continues to remind me that while it’s not easy, it’s possible to pursue physical and spiritual health for my lifetime. I won’t be perfect as I move forward, but I can and must choose to persist in doing what I know I should do and not doing what I know I should not do.

Posted on August 22, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

The Last Lemon Cake: A story about submission and the tender loving care that God the Father had for our three sons

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A lemon cake is baking in my oven right now.  It is the 13th lemon cake baked in my kitchen in as many years.  Here is the true story of why, and how and who it is for. On January 6 of 2003, a day we’ve come to call Bloody Monday, David was told that he no longer had a job—as of that day! 

 

The natural reaction to conserve kicked in.  He called to let me know this had occurred and that there would be a moratorium on spending. 

My deepest concern, even more than the natural reaction of “what are we going to live on?” was how my sons would perceive God, what would they think of him when the church that claims to love and obey him was so callous?  Would they be able to separate the two?  Would this shipwreck their faith?  I pondered this for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, I realized I had made commitments, which I felt would have to be fulfilled, regardless.  The first of these promises was a batch of cookies.  These had to be made and taken to the kindergarten class to celebrate Michael’s 6th birthday.  They were going to be Veggie Tale cookies.  I already had the cookie cutters: Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber and budgeted for the baking ingredients.  I also told Michael that I would get a lemon cake mix per his request,  and bake it for his special day which would be on that Wednesday.  While shopping for the cookie ingredients and cake mix, I remembered that I actually had a yellow cake mix at home already!  I had to honor David’s wishes—no extra spending! Yikes!!!  Although I felt in good conscience about spending for the cookies to give away, I didn’t feel as free to buy another cake mix—a lemon cake mix—when I had a perfectly good yellow cake mix at home.  I would just have to explain it to Michael—he would understand, after all he would be 6 years old! When I broke the news to him he accepted it like a little man!  Phew!

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It was now Wednesday, January 8, Michael’s birthday. I started to bake that yellow but decidedly very un-lemon cake!  First, however, I would need to get my mixer blades back from my neighbor, Laura, who had borrowed them some time ago. I called that morning to say that I was baking that afternoon (I did not tell her why or what) and could I pick up my mixer blades?     I went over later and she handed me a grocery bag with some movies she’d borrowed,  the mixer blades and since she’d been feeling guilty for keeping my stuff for so long, she threw in something from her pantry…a lemon cake mix!  I remember pulling that out and giving it to Michael, he began running around the house shouting--“How did she know?!  How did she know?!”  I just answered, “God knew!” Right there beside me were my other two sons, Andrew and Nate.  They were seeing this miracle, knowing that no matter what or who brought us to such a difficult place that God did not forsake us and beyond that, cared for a little boy to the fine detail of the flavor of his birthday cake. I determined from then on that Michael would always have a lemon cake on his birthday and that we would remember that God cares for us personally.  He cared for my sons.  I’ll ever praise him (Psalm 146:2) and let this be a reminder that it is my job to obey—He will provide! 

Today, then, I’m baking what might just be the last lemon cake; after all Michael said recently now that he’s all grown (18 years old) this should be the last lemon cake—I didn’t promise anything!  

(Welcome guest blogger, Helen Jones, wife of Dr. David Jones, Pastor of Village Church, Barrington, IL!)

Posted on July 13, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

When it's Hard to Forgive: I’m Only Hurting Myself

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We teach our kids that it’s the right thing to do. We encourage others to do it so they can heal. We know the Bible tells us to do it and we’re only hurting ourselves if we don’t. So why do I backtrack when I’m faced with the fact that I need to extend forgiveness?

 

 

There are some situations where it’s relatively easy to forgive another person, like when my five-year-old tells me she’s sorry for being sassy. I forgive her immediately. It helps that she has red hair and is beyond adorable.

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But then there are situations that leave me so wounded that the act of forgiveness is beyond comprehension and even repulsive.

I spent most of my life in one church. It was my home. I knew most everyone and they knew me. At one point both my parents were on staff. My husband and I were married there, dedicated our three babies there, and spent countless hours serving in various ministries. There were high points and low points – just like with any church.

During a very low point, some things happened that grieved me very deeply. There were situations along the way that signaled something wasn’t right but I didn’t put the pieces together until much later. When I did finally learn the truth, I crumbled. And that’s when my husband and I felt released from the church. We didn’t want to leave if God wanted us there because it wasn’t our choice. It was His. But He let us know that He was releasing us.

For those of us who are really invested in our churches, this is a big deal. It’s painful. It’s like breaking up with someone you’ve been dating for thirty years – which was how long I had been there. There were some nights I lay on the bathroom floor, trying to stifle my sobs so I wouldn’t wake the family. I was sad and felt hopeless. I was really angry and for many reasons, reconciliation was not possible at that point.

It’s been two and a half years since we left that church but I’ve been recently hit with a 2x4 regarding everything that happened: I still haven’t extended forgiveness. I still harbor anger and bitterness toward those who hurt me. Sometimes I think I’ve moved on, but then something triggers a memory and the bitterness that I thought was gone rears its head again.

Here’s what I’m learning: For many reasons, there’s a good chance I will never be able to reconcile with those who hurt me, but I cannot continue to live with bitterness and anger. It’s strangling my heart and mind, affecting my eating habits, and I’m so very weary.

But I still don’t want to forgive because that feels like I’m letting them off the hook. I’ve been asking myself why I have to forgive at all. Why can’t I just keep living like I am – not forgiving isn’t really doing any harm, is it? “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (ESV Eph 4:32). There’s my answer. I am to forgive because Christ forgave me. It’s the right answer, but I still struggle to accept it.

My parents have a small garden on the side of their house. My mom plants cucumbers, tomatoes, and pumpkins. I love the free cucumbers. The tomatoes? I’m not a raw tomato fan so my husband eats his fill of those.

One year my mom noticed a vine growing in the garden. It had white flowers and crawled and weaved its way through the growing plants. What she didn’t realize is that while this vine was pretty, it was a killer. It was a Bindweed. It wound itself around the other vegetable plants until it strangled and killed them. What appeared to be harmless was deadly.

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The bitterness of an unforgiving heart is like this vine – deadly. I’ve known it was there, but I didn’t think it was doing any harm because as time has passed, I’m not as angry or bitter. But it’s still there, under the surface, slowly strangling my heart and the only way to kill the vine is to forgive and cut off its supply. I need to forgive even when those who hurt me haven’t apologized. I’m not responsible for them. I’m responsible for me and having an unforgiving spirit is not biblical or Christlike. It’s not what I want my kids to emulate and it’s not the example I want to set for others.

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). The ESV says I MUST forgive. It doesn’t give me a loophole. There isn’t a clause attached to it that says I must forgive only if the other person has apologized.

I haven’t been able to completely release my anger and bitterness. It’s something I have to work on daily. But now I’m more keenly aware of it and its effect on my life – family, work, service, health. Even if I never hear a sincere apology, I will answer to God regarding my part – have I forgiven? If I don’t forgive, I’m not getting even with those who hurt me. If I don’t forgive, I’m only hurting myself.

Posted on May 24, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Wishing Life Away

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I’ve been very fortunate to have gone through the Entrusted Bible Study three times now. Two of the three years, I’ve learned from Betsy in-person as she’s taught moms at a church in the Chicago suburbs.

Each week I come away from the study with a phrase that sticks out above everything else.

I’m not always quick to put the lightbulb phrase into practice like I should, but some weeks I can’t help but ponder and act on it.

One phrase that convicted me deeply is “Wishing my life away.”

For most of my life, I’ve been wishing for the next phase:

I wished to get my masters

I wished to be married

I wished for kids

I wished to stay home with kids

I wished for more kids

I wished for kids to sleep through the night

I wished for more freelance work

I wished for less freelance work

I wished for all the kids to be in school

I’ve learned something about myself in the past couple months between the Entrusted Bible study and a sermon series at our church: I feel like I continually need something big happening in my life or I need to be planning and preparing for something big to happen – I need to have a focus. I can’t enjoy where I am. I need to do something like rearrange the house, go back to school for a second masters, or make an out-of-state move. I spend so much time longing and wishing for something new that I don’t stop to appreciate where God has me right now. And when I think about it at a deeper level, I’m convicted even more because the place I am now is the place I’ve been wishing to be!

Case in point: My husband and I prayed earnestly for children, especially after we had three back-to-back miscarriages. Now we have three kids and I’ve spent more time than I should have anticipating when they’ll all be in school. Our youngest is three and has a speech delay. Because of his speech delay, he qualifies for preschool through our district where he receives speech therapy. He’s now in school five mornings a week. Our oldest is in first grade and our middle is in pre-kindergarten three full days a week. I now have three mornings each week that I’m kid free. I didn’t think it would happen this soon and while I enjoy having these mornings to myself, I do regret spending more energy and time wishing for this phase than I should have.

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul warns the people of Ephesus to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (NASB). Am I making the most of my time? In short, no, I’m not. I spend too much time wishing for the next phase or challenge instead of cultivating a grateful heart and appreciating where I am – even in the mundane things like driving all three kids to school, picking up the youngest three hours later, and then picking up the two oldest three hours after that. That can feel like a rut really fast. But you know what? When I was single, I wished for the time when I would get to drop off and pick up my kids from school. And now I get to do that. Even the monotony of my weekdays are fulfilling the longing my heart had so many years ago.

James 1:14-17 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

Is it wrong to wish for a new phase of life? No. Is it wrong to plan and work towards something? No. The problem occurs when that wishing or planning becomes the focus and obsession. When I allow myself to become obsessed with and carried away by my lusts – my plans, my wishing for something new – I am sinning.

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For the sake of my husband, kids, family, employers, and most importantly, for the sake of my relationship with God, I am determined (though I know I will fail at times) to be grateful. I look at my list of wishes from the past fifteen years and marvel at how God has worked to bring about His will in my life. Not all my wishes have come to fruition or have happened how I had hoped, but many of them have come about and the phase of life I’m in right now is one that I prayed for earnestly for many years.

I’ll still have fun thinking of how I can rearrange the house and I’ll enjoy the increasing freedom I have on weekday mornings, but I’m not going to focus so much on wishing for a new phase or focusing on a big life change in place of appreciating the phase God has me today. I’ll never find contentment and rest doing that.

Posted on April 25, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Trusting God with my miscarriage: Comforting Thoughts for those who grieve

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In May 2008, my husband and I bought our first home and had fun (well, I had fun) painting every room, replacing flooring, and installing new light fixtures, curtains, and blinds. Our new home had a small bedroom next to the master that was the perfect size for a nursery. But we had debt to get rid of so the plan was for me to keep working so that one day I could stay home when we had kids. So, while we knew we had the space, having a baby was on the back burner – way back on the back burner. The small bedroom became my home office.

In March 2009, I realized I was a bit late in my cycle. When I took the pregnancy test and it was positive, I felt fear instead of joy. I didn’t feel ready for kids. I had finally started losing some weight and still needed to work because our monthly budget was really tight. Even as I looked at the positive test I hoped that it was a false positive or that if not, it would somehow go away. I’m ashamed, mortified, and angry about that thought now. I had no idea what I was hoping for.

Our first appointment at the OB led us to a trip to the hospital to get a better ultrasound. Things didn’t look good. And they weren’t good. That was our first miscarriage. It wasn’t until we lost the baby that I realized how much I wanted the baby.

Then we had another miscarriage. And another. The third happened the week before Christmas in 2009. By then I was in a deep, dark well. I didn’t know how to come out of it and I didn’t want to come out of it.

I spent months crying in my car before and after work. I still went to church but couldn’t sing in service because every song made me cry. I didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day. I did what I had to in order to get through each day. I stayed home a lot. I rejoiced with friends who announced their pregnancies and then drove home and sobbed into my pillow. I went to baby showers and made frequent trips to the bathroom to cry. It truly was a dark and hopeless time.

In the midst of this grief, there were a few things that managed to keep me going. They didn’t take away the pain, but they helped me navigate and survive the dark waters of grief.

First, my faith in God carried me through. I fully believe I would have done something drastic (there were times I prayed and asked God to let me die) had it not been for the fact that I knew God loved me and hurt with me. I did ask Him a lot of questions though, like: Why do people who don’t want to have a baby deliver healthy babies? Why me? Romans 8:26 accurately depicts my prayer life in that time. More often than not, the Holy Spirit needed to intercede for me with groans too deep for words because I didn’t know how to pray. I also clung to Psalm 30:5b because it assured me that while the days and nights were dark, there would come a time when I would experience joy again.

Second, I found a group of women who had also experienced the loss of one or more babies. We met on a baby-focused website and after some time, a dozen of us formed a private group in Facebook where we shared, vented, encouraged, and rejoiced with each other. We’re spread across the country but I’ve been able to meet several of them over the nine years we’ve been connected. I had friends who lived near me, but at that point none of them had experienced a miscarriage and while they loved me, they couldn’t truly grasp my grief. I was so achingly lonely in that time of sorrow because I thought no one knew what I was feeling. Once I figured out that I needed to bond with women who understood what I was going through and I found the group, my loneliness eased. That group has been a huge source of healing for me.

Third, I decided to focus on something I could control. I couldn’t control my body and make it keep a baby safe, but I could control what I put in it and how I took care of it. I was overweight and decided to use that time to take control of my weight. I tracked what I ate and exercised and as I saw the number on the scale drop and felt the clothes loosen, I felt renewed and hopeful. I still had many moments of tears and despair, but being in control in just one area of life was a respite to the grief.

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I’ll never have a satisfying answer as to why I lost my babies. I don’t think there is one, but I choose to trust in God. I’ve also come to a realization: we live in a fallen world and tragic things happen as a result of living in a fallen world. Does that take away the pain? No. But it gives me some semblance of peace and closure now that I have distance from the rawness of the miscarriages.

If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, go to God. Cling to Him. Ask Him questions. We may never receive an answer that completely satisfies, but we can trust in His character when we look at the cross and meditate on Scripture. For example, Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He can shoulder your pain. He wants to comfort you in your sorrow.

If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, know that you are not alone. Find a group online or that’s part of a church’s care ministry. My church has a care night where various groups meet and address specific needs and hurts. I wish I had that when I was in the middle of the pain.

And lastly, if you’ve experienced a miscarriage, find something healthy to focus on so you can have some sense of control when you feel like there isn’t anything you can control. Maybe it’s exercise or education. Dedicate yourself to a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up. It won’t take away the pain but it can distract you in a good way.

Posted on February 28, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

Stand Before Him With Your Little Ones

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The living and active Word of God never ceases to amaze me. A passage I’ve known for years breathes new life into my current situation, and I walk away ready to face the day. As my circumstances threatened to overtake me this month, God flooded my heart with hope and direction through 2 Chronicles 20. I’d like to share it with you for when you face the overwhelming. It is a long passage, but it’s so worth it, so please stick with me!

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). 3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's.16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.

18 Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. 19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

WOW. So much to encourage us, isn’t there? What captivated me most was verse 13, Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” Three sets of enemies are on their way to attack them. Instead of running away with their families--their little ones--they stood. They stood before the Lord. I think it is significant that the verse separates children and little ones. Of course children were not expected to fight in the battle. Surely, it was commonplace to flee with little ones. Yet this is not what the nation did. They stood with their babies and they waited to see how God would respond. SIx times in the passage the word “stood” or “stand” is used. Here it describes their posture, but it also reveals the trust in their hearts.

I’m not sure this is my natural response…. When trials come, I often want to scoop up my babies and work my hardest to protect them from the pain of the world. Sometimes that’s what the Lord calls us to do as mothers. Still other times, our Savior is ready to rescue mightily--for our children to see. Stand firm! See the salvation of the Lord! If we try to protect our children every time a hardship comes, they will indeed miss out on the good, gracious, powerful hand of the Lord. He has limitless resources and abundant creativity to rescue us. His means of protection and provision far exceed our greatest imaginations.

I can’t tell you when to protect your children and when to let them watch; that distinction is for you to work out with Jesus on your own. Perhaps when our knuckles are most white, grasping the hardest for an escape is when we need to let go the most. When the tugging of the Lord on your heart makes the tears about to fall, He’s got you. Be still, and know. (Ps. 46:10) Sometimes the power to “stand” comes from being on our knees, and it isn’t a physical change, but a resoluteness with which we go forward.

That was encouragement enough, but God had more to show me. I had to reread the chapter three times to ensure I wasn’t missing something. The Lord didn’t tell them to worship. They worshipped out of expectation and urgency. Faith and hope collided into the perfect, deserved response of devotion.

No matter how great the battle, how daunting the circumstance, how necessary the preparations, the correct response will always be to worship. Not only is it what the Lord deserves, it can actually lead to our victory. “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord sent an ambush” (v. 22)

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The best motion pictures have nothing on this! Multitudes are coming against these people. Can you sense the impending rumblings of the enemy vibrating on the ground? Can you see the dust rolling up from the coming attack? Do you feel your heart beating within your chest? Now do you hear the worship of God’s children louder than all of it?

They choose to stand.

They choose to worship.

Many people select a word or phrase to meditate upon or strive for in the new year, sometimes in place of a resolution, sometimes to go along with one. This January I chose “Worship” to be my word for the year. I didn’t necessarily understand why God was laying this word, this choice, on my heart, but as 2018 has unfolded, it is becoming quite clear.

Recently I shared that we were in the ER right before Christmas because my husband was having some concerning neurological symptoms. A CT scan ensured us that he had not had a stroke or a brain tumor, and we were incredibly thankful. More testing needed to be done, however, and the MRI revealed lesions on his brain. We have just learned he has Multiple Sclerosis. As we await more clarity on this unpredictable condition, I have a picture in my mind of my little family. The six of us are holding hands, and standing together in hope and faith.

 I clearly see my two choices. I will stand with my children, with my little ones, watching to see how God works on our behalf. And I will worship.

My sweet sister, I pray that the Lord gives you the strength to stand and worship as you mother--today and every day.

Posted on February 21, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.

One Tiny Change That Will Instantly Turn You Into More A Grateful Person

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As we turn the calendar page to 2018, many of us are thinking about resolutions. Last year at this time, I wrote about being more forgiving. This year I’m working on being more grateful.

Self-talk and your inner dialogue are surprisingly powerful influences on your thinking. And, true blog confessions? I think my inner dialogue is getting more and more cranky the older I get!

My aunt, Diana, introduced me to what I believe could be the solution. A tiny, utterly simple vocabulary swap that will have huge ripple effects on your entire pattern of thinking.

The change is this: Every time you catch yourself saying “have to,” say “get to” instead.

For example, when a friend asks you to lunch on Friday and you decline, saying, “Oh darn, I can’t that day. I have to go to the dentist. Let’s do breakfast on Saturday instead.”

You would instead switch the word “have” for the word “get” and say, “Oh darn, I can’t that day. I get to go to the dentist. Let’s do breakfast on Saturday instead.”

Changing that one little word has the power to change everything in your brain. You may not even take the time to process through the thoughts behind your statement, but they will go from something like this:

“I have to go to the dentist.”

            ‘Ugh. Drudgery! I hate giving up the time, sitting in that chair, having my teeth poked at and prodded and learning I have the inevitable bi-annual cavity no matter how much I brush or floss!’

...to something like this:

“I get to go to the dentist.”

            ‘I live in a country where I have access to healthcare for my teeth! I have the money to afford getting them cleaned and cared for, and to have my cavities filled. I don’t have to face a future of my teeth decaying or falling out.’

Do you see what attitude the words “get to” create? Gratefulness. It’s simply inevitable.

This subtle change in your pattern of speech is normal enough not to make you sound like a weirdo, but abnormal enough to trigger your brain to take notice of what you are saying. And it really works!

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Here’s what my cranky inner self is grumbling when I say, “I have to go grocery shopping:”

            ‘Grocery shopping is the worst! Especially when I have the kids in tow. In the winter, just bundling them to leave the house requires the stamina of a triathlete, and then I have to schlep them around a huge store, load the van, haul all the heavy bags in and then try to put everything away. All this while they’re trying to tear open cookie packages and dump them on the floor!’

My inner self turns grateful when I change my words to, “I get to go grocery shopping:”

            ‘I can afford food! It’s beautifully laid out for me in a store. I don’t have to grow it, harvest it, or can it for the winter. I have an able body and a driver’s license to go shopping for myself, and the strength to load my own car and carry in my own bags. Every one of these are things I take for granted every day that other people don’t have.’

I have heard many testimonies and sermons about how easy it is, when you stop and think, to be grateful for the many blessings in hard situations. For instance, our pastor had his credit card stolen, and was quick to point out that he was grateful to have money that someone could steal! It’s not hard for us to see the blessings in our lives. It’s just hard for us to take the time to see them moment by moment. This small vocabulary change is a tiny reminder you can give yourself throughout the day to do just that.

Before: “I have to drive my daughter to soccer practice.”

            ‘Does anyone else feel like they’re bungee strapped to their minivan? I think I’m going to install a coffee bar in the center console.’

After: “I get to drive my daughter to soccer practice.”

            ‘I’m capable and available enough to drive my daughter to soccer practice. We can spend the time talking in the car, and she’ll know I’m there for her.’

These are just the small things. The inconveniences, the hassles, and the headaches that trip us up and make us crabby, especially when we’re hungry, amiright?? They’re the easy things to start retraining ourselves to say we “get to” do.

But what about the harder circumstances in life?     

“I have to stay home with my kids.”

            ‘Even though I love them, I’m exhausted. I feel like all I do is clean up after them, play peek a boo, make them snacks, and try to keep my one-year-old from taking a leap off the top of his brother’s bunk bed. I miss my office. And I can’t even remember what having disposable income feels like...’

“I get to stay home with my kids.”

            ‘Even though I’m exhausted, it’s an enormous privilege to be able to afford to stay home with my kids. Even though I feel like all I do is try to keep them alive (barely successfully!!), I know that this time is precious and short, and this season will be gone before I know it. Today I got to pour love and care into my children, all day. That’s awesome to be able to say.’

“I have to go to work.”

            ‘Monday morning again. I am so tired of this crazy schedule. It’s so hard to pack everyone up and get them out the door so early in the mornings, be gone all day, get home just in time for dinner, homework and bed, and then do it all again the next day. I don’t know if I can stand this grind for another week!’

“I get to go to work.”

            ‘I get to earn a living today. I am getting paid for my labor. Not only that, I have co-workers who are wonderful, and I get to do a job that is fulfilling and affirming. I get to do something that I’m good at and that makes a difference in people’s lives every day, all while supporting my family.’

These are just a sampling of some of the very real struggles moms face, and I don’t want to trivialize them in the slightest. Some of us are facing even harder things, like the death of a loved one or a health crisis. It’s important to be honest with ourselves about our feelings, so I don’t want to suggest that we should all just sweep real heartaches under the cheery-sunshine-I’m-fine-I’m-grateful-for-everything rug. So, you can prayerfully consider how you might apply this vocab change to the more serious stuff of life, and if it would be helpful for the season you’re in.

Once you’re in the habit of telling yourself you “get to” do certain things, you’ll naturally begin talking that way with your kids, and you might see big changes spread to their attitudes as well. For example, at 6:30 AM when you’re trying to rouse your pre-teen out of bed...

“Wake up, you have to go to school.”

            ‘Yep. School stinks. I completely get how hard it is to wake up early in the morning just so you can go sit through boring classes that you don’t care about and probably won’t need in life, all while navigating Junior High (aka the most awkward and stressful social experiment ever invented). Just bide your time and plow through until you can graduate- in a mere 7 years!’

“Wake up, you get to go to school!”

           ‘I know you’re too young to understand this yet, but you have to trust me that your education is precious. It is an incredible gift and privilege to be educated. Abraham Lincoln had to walk miles to find and read one book. Yet every day you go to a building that is filled with books! And not only that, but people teach you how to read them and think about them critically. Past generations would have given anything for the knowledge and learning you are privy to every day. Even today, there are some children around the world who still have no access to education, or who have to walk miles or work in cramped conditions with few resources. You’re blessed to learn in a place that is safe and convenient and comfortable. And since I’m on a soap box, let’s not forget that a loving mother is waking you from a deep sleep that was afforded to you in a warm cozy bed, and that breakfast is readily available to you downstairs after your hot shower and access to spectacular dental care! So, get moving, okay?!’

Well, I think if we’ve learned anything here it’s that there is a LOT of talking going on inside my head. :) And hopefully if you’re in the same boat, we can turn a little more of that talk into gratefulness this year by declaring aloud that we “get to” do hard things. By doing so, I believe we’ll be on the path to one of the things I covet most as a woman of God: a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in His sight.

Happy New Year!

Posted on January 5, 2018 and filed under Building Your Faith.